HAMPSTEAD – Emotions are feelings that can run a huge gamut, and last night at Topsail High School on Military Appreciation Night emotions pretty much ran the full spectrum – from sadness, to honor, to shock, to subdued honor and respect, and finally, to joy in a football game that ended with a Pirates come-from-behind victory.
It was a sad scene at the beginning as there was a moment of silence for a local fallen hero – Army National Guard Sgt. Thomas Jefferson Butler IV – who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his nation when a suicide bomber drove into a group of American servicemen, ending the life of Butler, a 2006 graduate of Topsail who excelled on the baseball diamond and on the football field as well as in the classroom, and two of his comrades.
The shock of the evening came in the first half of the football game between the home-standing Pirates and visiting Croatan as the Cougars vaulted out to a 14-3 lead heading into the halftime break.
The honor and respect part came at halftime, and that goes to Holly Butler, the wife of Sgt. Butler, who came to the game along with Butler’s parents knowing that the Topsail family was honoring her husband on the evening of the day they laid this fallen hero to rest.
Then came the joy in the form of a 29-point second half that help the inspired Pirate players, who will wear Butler’s former No. 10 on their uniforms for the remainder of the season, to gain an important conference victory.
Josh Jessup’s 41-yard touchdown scamper with 7:54 seconds left in the game provided Topsail with an 18-14 lead, and subsequent touchdowns by Devin Williams and a second by Jessup provided the insurance as Topsail defeated Croatan 32-14 on Friday in a key East Central 2A Conference football game.
Topsail now stands at 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference with games left at home next Friday against Richlands (3-6, 2-3), and on the road on Oct. 26 at Swansboro (4-5, 1-4). Croatan fell to 4-4 and 2-3 in conference play. Should the Pirates win out they would be guaranteed a spot in the 2AA playoffs.
Last year the East Central 2A Conference had Topsail and Swansboro in the 2AA bracket, and East Duplin, Northside, and Croatan in the 2A bracket – meaning five teams from the conference were playoff eligible. Last night the Pirates took a major step toward reaching that playoff goal.
“From here on out every game is a playoff game,” Topsail Coach Bryan Davis said. “And if we play every game with that mentality it will help us not only get in but it will help us when we get there because we will be used to the one-and-done pressure. That’s part of what makes this such a big win.”
And the Pirates did it in a big way with 29-unanswered points in the second half after watching the Cougars take a 14-3 lead into the halftime intermission.
“We made a few adjustments and Coach got us lined up in the right defense and we flew around, played Topsail football, and didn’t miss tackles like we did in the first half,” said Topsail senior linebacker and wide receiver Mason Kimmel, who finished the game with five tackles.
The Pirates definitely needed some adjustments after a first half in which second-quarter touchdowns by Marshall Judon (5 yards) and 6-foot-3 wide receiver Mitchell Smith (a 29-yard scoring pass from Kyle Hopewell) overshadowed a 39-yard, first-period field goal off the toe of Topsail’s Alec Webster.
Croatan had 202 total yards to Topsail’s 99 yards in the first half, and they held a tremendous 12-3 advantage in first downs over that first minutes.
“In the first half our execution was poor on both sides of the ball,, and our defensive shortcomings were on me because it took me a while to figure out what they were doing,” Topsail Coach Bryan Davis said. “We did a terrible job of covering their pitch man and we did a better job with that and on defense in general in the second half.”
Croatan managed a total of 88 yards (34 rushing and 54 passing) over the second 24minutes while the Topsail offense came alive to the tune of 175 yards. It also helped that the Cougars turned the ball over five times (3 fumbles and two interceptions), giving them 16 in three consecutive losses to Northside (7), East Duplin (4), and the Pirates.
The comeback started early in the second half when an anticipated Cougars’ punt turned into a Topsail two-point safety when the ball was snapped over the punter’s head and rolled out of the back of the end zone.
Croatan punted after the safety and Topsail had good field position at the Croatan 45-yard line. Six plays later, aided b a personal foul against the Cougars, they had closed their deficit to 14-11 when Williams rambled 20 yards into the end zone and Webster connected on the point-after.
Midway through the fourth quarter the Pirates took advantage of a short 27-yard punt by Croatan and took over on the Cougars’ 49-yard line. Jessup provided the lead with a 41-yard run with 7:54 left on the game clock.
A fumble on Croatan’s next series gave the Pirates renewed life at the Croatan 21-yard line and on the second Pirate offensive play sophomore quarterback Austin Schoenleber hooked up with Williams on a 20-yard scoring play to make it 25-14 with 6:04 left in the game.
Croatan went for it on fourth-and-11 on their next series in an effort to get back in the game but the pass on fourth down was incomplete and Topsail had the ball on the Cougars’ 41-yard line. Jessup capped a 41-yard, seven-play drive with a four-yard touchdown burst and it was game, set, and match.
“We did a little more sprinting out in the second half to negate their blitzes and the guys (linemen) did a good job, and we were simply better able to execute our game plan,” Schoenleber said.
Topsail – Alex Webster 39 Field Goal, 1:29
Croatan – Marshall Judon 5 run (Kyle Colburn kick), 1:40
Croatan – Mitchell Smith 9 pass from Kyle Hopewell (Kyle Colburn kick), 0:14.9
Topsail – Safety, ball snapped out of end zone on punt attempt, 11:12
Topsail – Devin Williams 10 run (Kick blocked), 8:53
Topsail – Josh Jessup 41 run (Alec Webster kick), 7:54
Topsail – Devin Williams 19 pass from Austin Schoenleber (Alec Webster kick), 6:04
Topsail – Josh Jessup 4 run (Alec Webster kick), 1:38
Team Statistics Topsail Croatan
First Downs 12 16
Rushing 39-189 36-113
Passing 7-11-85-0 9-24-143-2
Fumbles/Lost 1/1 5/3
Punting 2-63=31.5 2-41=20.5
Individual Statistics: Rushing – Topsail: Devin Williams 17-92; Josh Jessup 13-102; Hunter Jacobs 3-6. Croatan: Marshall Judon 15-31; Lonnie Murray 8-52; Kyle Colburn 6-19; Andrew Colburn 4-15. Passing – Topsail: Austin Schoenleber 7-11-85. Croatan: Kyle Hopewell 4-12-60, Marshall Judon 4-11-106, Kyle Colburn 1-1-17. Receiving – Topsail: Mason Kimmel 3-27, Hunter Jacobs 2-35, Addison Futrell 1-4, Devin Williams 1-20. Croatan: Lonnie Murray 3-62, Mitchell Smith 3-62, Beau Bryan 1-14, Marshall Judon 1-6, Kyle Colburn 1-minus-1. Defense – Topsail: Devin Williams 20 tackles; JakeemSmith 6 tackles, fumble recovery; Mason Kimmel 5 tackles; Addison Futrell 3 tackles, nterception, fumble recovery; Trevor Savidge 3 tackles, fumble recovery; Justin Lemaster 3 tackles; Cole McGinn interception. Croatan: Dillon Bannigan 4 tackles; Kyle Colburn 4 tackles; Mitchell Smith 2 tackles; Andrew Colburn 2 tackles; Caleb Orr 2 tackles; Bobby Straub 2 tackles; Eric Ellmo 2 tackles.